The picture above is borrowed from Ruth Schwenk’s blog, The Better Mom. October 12, 2011
This is an ancient oil lamp from several thousand years ago. It is small, barely covering one palm. As I hold it, I imagine walking in the darkness with only a small flicker coming out of the tip, barely penetrating the darkness. I have to hold it close to the ground, and sometimes close to me, to even see where I am going. This is likely what the Psalmist had in mind when he penned the words “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” It is not a lot of light. It is just enough light to take that next step. Though the darkness around me can feel great, and the questions remain unanswered, God’s Word is enough for me to continue on the path. His Word illuminates our path, sheds light on His character, His promises, and His plans.
Things to watch for as you read these chapters.
Monday, February 3, Chapter 24
The Temple destroyed in 70 AD; the gold and jewels taken to Rome, along with thousands of captured slaves. The wealth used to construct the Coliseum. The walls of the Temple pushed over the edge of the massive platform. The stones were not seen again until 1968.
When the disciples asked about the end times, the most important words Jesus gave them were, ‘watch out that no one deceives you.’
The abomination referred to in verse 15 comes from Daniel 9:25-27. In 168 BC Antiochus Epiphanes placed a pagan altar to Zeus on the Altar of God in the Temple. Jesus is telling us that Daniel tells us about events in the end times, including a new desecration of the Altar. Anyone caught in that time will need to flee to the hills. But Jesus may also have the events of the fall of Jerusalem in 70 in mind.
Verse 29 quotes Isa. 3:10 & 34:4. In verses 30-31, if we had any doubts before, the angels and trumpets will end them.
In verse 32 Jesus returns to the lesson of the fig tree, using it as a symbol of signs of the coming of the end times. When Jesus says, ‘this generation will not pass away’, he is not talking about the end, but rather the beginnings of the events leading to the end times. From our stand point, 2,000 years later, it is easy to assume that there are many thousands more years to come.
Jesus does make clear that even he does not know when all these things will happen. Consider with suspicion anyone who claims to know.
The image of ‘one taken and one left’ may simply refer to normal death. We do not know when it will happen. All I know is that I have a 50/50 chance of living to age 86 and I have a one chance in 99 of reaching the century mark. I could also die before I finish this sentence. Whee, made it. What Jesus expects of us is to live as though the end is here. We cannot get so involved with living our own lives that we forget God.
Tuesday, February 4, Chapter 25
The three parables that make up this chapter deal with the end times, so continue the ideas of the preceding chapter. As to the first parable, allow me to paraphrase shamelessly from Kenneth E. Bailey, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes.
In the traditional wedding, the groom walks with family and friends to the house of the bride and returns to his house for the festivities. But, the walk back winds through as many streets as possible so that everyone gets a chance to meet and greet. Meanwhile, the main wedding guests are waiting at the groom’s house.
The 10 young women have their small lamps to show everyone who they are. It is indecent for a woman to be out at night without such a light, even today. Also, the light is not used to light the path but to show the face. It is all about maintaining a good reputation.
As the night wears on, the girls snooze. When the announcement comes that the groom and his bride are coming down the street, the 10 women pick up their lamps which are nearly out of oil. They are too small to hold more than a few ounces, so 5 women refill their lamps as the others beg for some of the oil. Getting no help, the 5 rush away to borrow oil from people they know and return to find the door closed.
This message is for Christians. We may come to church every Sunday. We may give large amounts of money. But if we are not ready when the Groom arrives, the door may be slammed in our faces.
How do we keep ourselves ready? Reread Matt 11:4-6. More than that, consider that the Bible (NIV) uses the word ‘Justice’ 132 times, 30 of them in Isaiah alone. When the Bible speaks of justice, it is talking about treating people as equals; making sure people have clothing, food, shelter, education, and medical care.
The Parable of the Talents follows the Ten Women in its content and context. Being ready for the Return of the Messiah includes working hard in the meantime. We do not just take a long nap as the ten women did, we need to use our talents to bring justice into the world. We cannot worry that we do not have the talents of others. God has given each of us a skill for love and he expects us to use it.
If the Parable of the Ten Women is about being ready for the heavenly party, the parable of the sheep and goats is about judgment. This has always been my first image of God’s judgment and I often consider which side I am on. Pay close attention to the items God uses to pass judgment. Will the Groom (Jesus) open the door?
Paul Tillich was a theologian at Union Theological Seminary until his move to Chicago Divinity in 1955. In that same year a collection of his sermons given at the Union Chapel was published, called The New Being. The following is a direct quote from one of those sermons.
Let me tell you the story of a woman who died a few years ago and whose life was spent abiding in love, although she rarely, if ever, used the name of God, and though she would have been surprised had someone told her that she belonged to Him who judges all men, because He is love and love is the only criterion of His judgment.
Her name was Elsa Brandström the daughter of a former Swedish ambassador to Russia. But her name in the mouths and hearts of hundreds of thousands of prisoners of war during the First World War was the Angel of Siberia. She was an irrefutable, living witness to the truth that love is the ultimate power of Being, even in a century which belongs to the darkest, most destructive and cruel of all centuries since the dawn of mankind.
At the beginning of the First World War, when Elisa Brandström was twenty-four yers old, she looked out of the window of the Swedish Embassy in what was then St. Petersburg and saw the German prisoners of war being driven through the streets on their way to Siberia. From that moment on she could no longer endure the splendor of the diplomatic life of which, up to then, she had been a beautiful and vigorous center. She became a nurse and began visiting the prison camps. There she saw unspeakable horrors and she, a girl of twenty-four, began, almost alone, the fight of love against cruelty, and she prevailed. She had to fight against the resistance and suspicion of the authorities and she prevailed. She had to fight against the brutality and lawlessness of the prison guards and she prevailed. She had to fight against cold, hunger, dirt and illness, against the conditions of an underdeveloped country and a destructive war, and she prevailed. Love gave her wisdom with innocence, and daring with foresight. And whenever she appeared despair was conquered and sorrow healed. She visited the hungry and gave them food. She saw the thirsty and gave them to drink. She welcomed the strangers, clothed the naked and strengthened the sick. She herself fell ill and was imprisoned, but God was abiding in her. The irresistible power of love was with her.
And she never ceased to be driven by this power. After the war she initiated a great work for the orphans of German and Russian prisoners of war. The sight of her among these children whose sole ever-shining sun she was, must have been a decisive religious impression for many people. With the coming of the Nazis, she and her husband were forced to leave Germany and came to this country. Here she became the helper of innumerable European refugees, and for ten years I was able personally to observe the creative genius of her love. We never had a theological conversation. It was unnecessary. She made God transparent in every moment.
Wednesday, February 5, Chapter 26
Have you been keeping track of how many times Jesus tells his followers he is to be killed? Early on, he speaks of Jonah (12:38 & 16:4), treatment of the son (21:38), and rejecting the stone (21:42), all of which are indirect references and might be over looked. However, 16:21, 17:9, 20:18, 20:28, & 26:2 are direct statements that Jesus would die. Yet, no matter how often he repeated the words, his disciples failed to understand, as we also fail to understand.
Jesus did not have to die. God did not order him to his death. Jesus found that he loved everyone he met and he wanted to help everyone of them, and us, get into Heaven. He knew the only way to do that was to defeat death. But because of the nature of our physical universe the only way to defeat death was to die. Not just to die, but to take on my sins and die in my place.
We live in a scientific age which cannot possibly explain how that works because it is outside the rules of the physical universe; it is a God Thing. There is a non-Biblical story of Jesus spending the three days after his death preaching the Gospel in Hell. I like that image because Jesus was, and is, willing to reach out to even the worst of sinners.
Please stop and reread verse 12. That is the importance of the anointment. The remainder of the chapter could be discussed for days. Read with reverence.
Thursday, February 6, Chapter 27
Think on Judas. So many church members are like him. We want to follow Jesus as long as he says what we want to hear. We are willing to give money and help others when we can. Judas decided to take God’s mission into his own hands. He decided he knew better than his master, Jesus. Like Peter, Judas failed his master. Unlike Peter, he did not seek forgiveness. I fail every day, but I continue because I know I am forgiven. One step forward, two back, with practice becomes two steps forward and one back.
There is little to add to the powerful story Matthew has given us concerning the death of Jesus. The details are not necessary to grasp the emotion of it all. Jesus said to each person on earth, ‘For your sins, you have been sentenced to death. I am going to die in your place.’
Friday, February 7. Chapter 28
This is it, the single most important event in the Bible; the event promised from Genesis onward. For Jesus to die is a good and noble act, but it would leave us in our same state of sinfulness. Only by defeating death and walking out of the grave can we be truly changed.
I will die to this earth, but be truly born again to the life that God intended for me in the New Jerusalem. The best day I have ever lived on earth will be worse than the worst day I will live in Heaven. What a promise.
Let me quote from a sermon by Dietrich Bonhoeffer based on the text, ‘I am with you always.’
What can we possibly mean by saying that Jesus is with us? Isn’t that merely an approximate, undefined feeling?
Not at all. It is completely clear. Jesus is with us in his words, and that means clearly and unequivocally that he is in that which he wants and in that which he thinks about us. He is with us with his will, in his words, and only in our dealings with Jesus’ words do we sense his presence…. If we have a person’s word, then we know that person’s will; indeed, we know the whole person…. It tells us: You are standing under God’s love, God is holy, and you should also be holy; God wants to give you the Holy Spirit that you might also be holy.
Be righteous and do good.